As I walked into the Thunderdome on Friday night to watch Interpol, a strange yet familiar feeling overcame me. There was something middle-school-homecoming-dance-esque to it — the rear bleacher seating, the gym floors, people milling about awkwardly and a strong, unquenchable thirst for Fruitopia.
I was soon distracted from my nostalgia. It took some time for Interpol’s opening act, School of Seven Bells, to begin, but I passed the time with some awkward milling and people-watching. Almost immediately, I encountered the group of bros who would go on to entertain me nearly as much as the real performers of the night did.
As the lights dimmed, I overheard the seven or eight men tell some ladies that they had driven down from SLO to celebrate their buddy’s 21st birthday. I glanced over; they were huddling around two freshman girls. What better way to spend the weekend: Interpol, Santa Barbara, getting your dick wet? I was thinking, “are all of these synonymous?” as School of Seven Bells took the stage.
Though it was difficult to understand the words of lead singer Alejandra Deheza, the music came across well and I was very impressed by the band’s performance. The coolness of the lights on stage added to the edgy, electronic-rock feel. Then I heard my SLO-bros speaking up over the music.
“I don’t think they’re really playing, bro. Listen to that. It’s like the music is coming from somewhere else.”
In a way, these bros were right. The music indeed seemed to come from everywhere — including us — instead of just being performed for us. The effect, which I would attribute to the skill of whoever was manning the synthesizer, was great.
Most of the crowd simply swayed to the ethereal music. Toward the front, I noticed a chick in glasses that was really into it, dancing around all over the place. Gotta love the pre-gamers.
Halfway through their set, the energy picked up as strobe light flashes echoed those of illegal cameras. I began really feeling the music, getting absorbed in the grungy guitar and rising vocals — when, suddenly, my enjoyment was interrupted.
“Dude, I bet you it’s coming from speakers, not that guy’s guitar. I guarantee you he’s not even actually playing.”
GOD DAMN IT. IT’S TECHNOLOGY. DO THEY NOT HAVE THAT AT CAL POLY? Oh. Okay. They’re starting another calm song now. Time to relax my shit.
With some difficulty I ignored the sweaty, backward-capped ignorance of those surrounding me and went back to enjoying the music. The performance of “Wired for Light” made me determined to actually listen to this band more often. I heard a bro yell, “Yeaah! Last song!” as the band came to the end of their set, but I was thinking, “Fuck. These people really know how to make music.”
School of Seven Bells got the crowd clapping then. The music seemed to unravel, falling apart and taking us with it. The final twinges of synthesizer lingered as the lights went dark, the band put down their instruments and walked off the stage.
“Worst band ever, bro.” I looked up to see the birthday boy nonchalantly blowing spit bubbles. No joke. I didn’t even have to make that up.
The audience continued to produce similar quotable gems as we waited for Interpol.
“You guys are making it so hot in here! Make out!” birthday-boy’s friend said as he lifted his sweatshirt up over the heads of the bewildered freshmen.
To my other side, a girl said, “We could have been a third of the way through ‘Titanic’ by now!”
A male friend wittily responds, “We could have been fucked up by now!”
That probably would have made you all more bearable, yes.
Finally, the lights dimmed again and everybody went insane. “It’s about fucking time!” a SLO-bro screamed with delight as the band took the stage and began playing “Success,” the first track from their 2010 self-titled album.
The band transitioned quickly from reflecting on their careers to reflecting on relationships with “C’mere,” another crowd pleaser. From the stage to the back of the packed auditorium, people shouted along with the lyrics and danced, arms waving in the air.
“Titanic” girl shouted, “Take it off!” at Paul Banks as the girls on the other side of me toked stealthily. Yeah, the crowd was definitely pleased.
Watching the show, I realized a few things about the band that I hadn’t before. One: the effects of the lights on stage controlled the energy and mood of the crowd as much as the music did. They were sick. Toward the beginning of the set, several choice lights facing the audience brightened while everything else remained dark, making the space feel a lot larger than it was and not at all like a middle school gym anymore.
The second thing I noticed was the importance of drums and percussion in the band’s music. Sam Fogarino replaced Interpol’s original drummer, Greg Drudy, in 2000. Fogarino was a good choice. The man did a phenomenal job Friday night, laying down the rhythm that kept heads bobbing and bros moshing. Though Banks’ uniquely droning voice is an integral part of Interpol’s sound, Fogarino struck me as the true star of the show. It was his prowess that kept me into it even when the droning got monotonous.
The last thing I realized is the overall skill the band has in keeping the audience’s attention. The songs were high-energy and short, especially in comparison to School of Seven Bells’ set right before. They each ended quickly enough to leave the audience wanting more.
The quick succession of fairly well-known songs going into the middle of the set helped with this, too. Some rows ahead of me, I could see a group of tank-top-wearing bros singing along to “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” and doing a sort of group bro-dance, arms around each other, ruffling one another’s hair. So cute.
“Nothing gets my dick hard like Interpol” seemed to be a running theme throughout the night as well. At the start of “Evil,” “Titanic” girl yelled, “I forgot to bring an extra pair of panties!” and a bro next to her shouted, “Me too!”
At the end of the song, even the more reserved people in the crowd were pumping their fists and screaming as if they had all accomplished something just by being there. The collective energy was a great thing to be a part of.
Halfway through “Slow Hands,” a guy standing in front of me who had been merely nodding along through the entire set seemed to hit his peak energy.
“I—SUBMIT—MY INCENTIVE—IS RO—MANCE!” he sang at the top of his lungs while waving his arms around wildly. He then returned to his original head-bobbing position for the rest of the set.
The band’s encore was another testament to their skill as performers and ability to control the energy level of the crowd. The lighting went from calm, with “The Lighthouse,” to brighter and more erratic with “Barricade,” pumping us up for the last two songs. They hardly paused between “Narc” and the last encore. By the time they finished “Not Even Jail,” even stoic Banks looked utterly into the music.
Interpol finished to roaring applause. I was excited to leave the stuffy gym, technologically ignorant SLO-bros and unquenchable cravings for Fruitopia behind me. But Fogarino’s drums, Banks’ drone and the shine of the bright lights left an impression on me, and were definitely worth the rest of that bullshit.